A hundred years ago the English writer G.K. Chesterton was asked to write about “Marriage and the Modern Mind” and when he finally published the work that fulfilled this request, he wrote: “It would perhaps be more appropriate to write about Marriage and the Modern Absence of Mind. In much of their current conduct, those who call themselves “modern” seem to have abandoned the use of reason; they have sunk back into their own subconsciousness (..)”. It seems that Chesterton’s words are as relevant today as they were when he wrote them a century ago, because the current shrill public discussion of the desirability of a redefinition of marriage seems to have little room for reasoned debate. At this time a number of Western countries are dealing with the question whether marriage should be redefined to include same-sex couples. The United States States Supreme Court is due to take a decision on the matter in June, whilst Irish voters are about to go to the polls to vote on the issue in a referendum. It is a bitter irony that a society that has become so addicted to various forms of living together and sexual relationships that exclude any aspect of durable fidelity and openness to life, should now be so obsessed with re-inventing that oldest of human institutions to now include those relationships that through the mere realities of biology will never be able to fulfill the conditions for which the institution of marriage was exclusively created: the complementarity of man and woman, whereby their mutual commitment and openness to new life creates the best possible environment for children to be raised.
The argument most commonly used today to promote the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples is that “gays and lesbians are ordinary people like everybody else” and need to be “treated equally” and should thus be able to marry, which is then called “marriage equality”. We need to pick this argument apart to get a better sense of what is being said here and why the argument is off the mark. First, what does “ordinary people” refer to? If it means that gay and lesbian people are ordinary in the sense that like every other human being they are created in the image and likeness of God and thus have equal dignity, then yes, they are indeed ordinary people. Yet people that are equal in dignity (which all human beings are), can be very diverse in their way of life and in the relationships they form. The second thing we therefore have to do is to take a look at the definition of “equality”. According to the Oxford Dictionary equality is “the state of being equal, especially in status, rights or opportunities”. Equal means being the same, being identical. Whereas any human being, regardless of sexual orientation, is equal in worth, this does not mean that all the relationships we enter into as human beings are equal, identical or the same; we distinguish here between the human being itself and the actions this human being takes. The loving relationship between a man and a woman is not identical to the relationship between two men or two women. Men and women are by the mere fact of their created nature biologically different from each other. Such a relationship based on difference is one thing. A relationship between two people of the same sex, where that basis of difference is missing, is another thing, because the reality of their created natures is that they are biologically the same. Where a man and a woman in a relationship are by nature meant and capable to complement each other through their differences, which in principle includes the possibility to create new life as a result, two people of the same sex cannot attain this, simply because they lack the biological reality of other-ness.
Since the institution of marriage is based exclusively on the human reality of other-ness, it cannot be changed to include same-ness. Whilst heterosexual and homosexual people are equal in dignity as human beings, heterosexual and homosexual relationships are factually speaking entirely different. Two things that are different cannot be treated in the same way, they have to be treated in a way that respects those differences rather than just ignore them. They have to be treated differently. Claiming that equality requires marriage to be open to same-sex couples is to ignore that heterosexual and homosexual relationships are not identical. The modern marriage ‘equality”argument actually leads to inequality and discrimination because it forces us to threat what is different the same. Consistently and logically promoting genuine marriage equality should in fact lead to reaffirming that marriage is an institution designed exclusively for one man and one woman and open to life. This is the equality we have to fight for – for the good of humanity. Also here Chesterton has some advice to pass on a hundred years later:
But the traditions of humanity support humanity; and the central one is this tradition of Marriage. And the essential of it is that a free man and a free woman choose to found on earth the only voluntary state; the only state which creates and which loves its citizens. So long as these real responsible beings stand together, they can survive all the vast changes, deadlocks and disappointments which make up mere political history. But if they fail each other, it is as certain as death that “the State” will fail them.